INTERVIEWS | AT HOME WITH ARTISTS
IN THE STUDIO WITH ROBERT WADE
Above, Self Portrait of the Artist in Paris (1969)
Can you tell us a little about your work, and how you came to be a photographer?
Looking back, I’d say a couple of things influenced my original interest. In 1960, when I was 15-years old, our mother took my sister and me on a road trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I took a photograph of the Golden Gate Bridge, using a Kodak box camera. After the photo was processed, it received a lot of family praise. At that young age, there was nothing like praise to stimulate interest. Then, around 1967, I saw Michelangelo Antonioni’s feature film Blow Up. That movie was the first time I sensed both the magic and the limitations of photography. The film still holds my attention and I watch the DVD from time to time.
I bought my first single-lens reflex camera, a Honeywell Pentax, in 1967. A few years later, I switched over to Nikon cameras and I’ve remained on that platform. From 1967 to around 1983, I shot a lot. Mostly what might be described as street photography. During those years, I also traveled a lot, in the United States, Western Europe, and Africa. Many of my most popular images are from those travels.
After 1983, I continued to shoot, but not as much. That changed when digital cameras became useful and affordable, around 2001. I was already shooting a lot, again, when photography became my primary source of income, in 2005. Before that, I worked in corporate communications for an insurance company, was a community college psychology instructor for 20 years, worked as a research analyst for a couple of years, and ended my “working for others” days with 10 years as an information systems project manager.
Currently, I work in both the commercial and fine art photography worlds. Nearly all of my commercial assignments are for cultural organizations, a partial client list includes the Seattle Art Museum, the Henry, the Frye, the Northwest African American Museum, the Bellevue Arts Museum, the Wing Luke Museum, ArtsFund, the Seattle Public Library and Friends of Waterfront Seattle. In my fine art practice, I’ve exhibited in group and solo shows, in galleries, museums, hotels, coffee shops, and art fairs in Seattle, San Diego, New York City, Tallahassee, and Spain.
My personal work now includes performance, portraiture, travel, the natural world, and street photography.
Connie (Bobby Seale), 1969, archival pigment print, 16.5 in x 21.75 in
"I spent the summer of 1969 traveling and making photographs in Europe. Copenhagen was my home base that summer and a Eurail Pass allowed me to travel throughout Europe. Soon after my arrival in Copenhagen, I met Connie at the Drop Inn, a live music venue. She was both executive secretary of a UNESCO cultural organization and the European organizer for the Black Panther Party. I took the photo the night we received word that Black Panther Party leader Bobby Seale had been arrested in the United States."
This photo was made last year. It’s one of my 2019 favorites.
How are you spending this time? What has changed for you in light of the self-isolation?
For me, outside the abrupt halt of income, maybe the most striking impact of coronavirus is a huge reduction in opportunities for fun. Event photography for my client set is super fun. For example, frequently, I was getting paid to go to parties with creative people and people who love art. Perfect. I think of myself as a happy hour connoisseur and pre-coronavirus went a couple of times a week. Gone. Hanging out with friends. Gone. Attending live performances. Gone. Going to movies. Gone. Meeting for coffee. Gone. Etc.
For the first few weeks of self-isolation, I was fairly productive, catching up on office work and household maintenance tasks. Then, there were a few weeks of mostly wasting time. Ennui might be the operative term for those weeks. About two weeks ago, I got back into the swing of things, spending time enhancing my photography and video skills, watching a lot of online videos on art and art history, and preparing to start applying for grants and residencies, something I’ve done very little of in the past because my commercial work paid the bills.
And, of course, since the murder of George Floyd, I’ve spent a lot of screen time viewing and reading about the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the world.
Moroccan Souk, 1973, archival pigment print, 21.75 in x 16.5 in
"During my years as a community college psychology instructor, I often traveled during both summer and winter vacation. During the winter break of 1973, I went to Morocco with Birgit, my partner at that time. She and I spent most of our time in Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech. This photo was taken in a souk."
What are you reading at the moment? Are there any albums or playlists that have been on heavy rotation which you care to share?
The books I’ve read since social distancing are: Deacon King Kong by James McBride, Exhalation: Stories by Ted Chiang; and The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith. Next up is a re-read: Golden Days, a 1976 novel by Carolyn See, which finds hope in disaster. The last three art books I purchased are: Dawoud Bey: Two American Projects; Kerry James Marshall: Mastry; Adrian Piper: A Synthesis of Intuitions. I had the good fortune to see the New York exhibitions that the Kerry James Marshall and Adrian Piper books cover.
I listen to music all the time. I have a huge collection of CDs, an excellent stereo system and a subscription to Tidal. I probably listen to jazz about half of the time and everything else the other half (e.g. World, hip hop, pop, rock, folk, classical and even a tad of county - shout out to Willie Nelson - depending on the performer). A few of my favorite jazz performers are John Coltrane, Clifford Brown, Miles Davis, Charles Lloyd, Bill Evans, Jason Moran, Sarah Vaughn and Esperanza Spalding. During social isolation, pop and World music female vocalists have been among my top choices, a few less well-known performers I’m enjoying are Kandace Springs, Snoh Aalegra and Amina Annabi.
Another coronavirus victim is that normally I’d photograph the Monterey Jazz Festival, in September. But it’s gone, too, at least for this year.
You live with a wonderful collection of artwork - can you describe your favorite piece and your connection to it?
Picking a single favorite isn’t possible. But the one I’ll share here is The Keys to the Coop, a 1997 linocut by Kara Walker. It’s fairly large, at 46 in x 60 in. When I purchased it, I was aware of Walker’s silhouette work and impressed with how much meaning and emotion she could wring out of black on white. I barely beat one of the local museum curators to the piece, but I agreed to make it a promised gift, so the museum will eventually get it.